Fitness | Total Shape

How to Get Bigger Legs Fast
The Complete Workout Guide

The Mysteries Behind Amazing Leg Development Explained
Isaac Robertson
Written by Isaac Robertson

Before you start reading this page, take a moment in your bathroom and drop your pants. Stand in front of a mirror and take a close look at your legs from different angles.

Now, be totally honest with yourself and think about whether you like what you see or not.

I know what my reaction was about 5 years ago, and unless you’re constantly working with a fitness instructor, your legs are probably not getting the attention they need.

I see this often at the gym with friends of mine that have amazingly ripped upper bodies.

Then you look at the legs, and they seem like they belong to a different person. See, if you want to build big legs, then you have to dedicate a fair bit of your gym time to a leg routine. And with the guide on this page, you can make some drastic changes.

Before you get into a detailed routine with specific leg training exercises, let’s take a look at what muscle group you will need to target.

The 6 Leg Muscles You Need To Target

Your legs are split into several areas, all of which are going to need to be targeted in order to fully round-off your leg development on the whole.

1. Quadriceps

Your “quads” (often referred to as thighs) sit above the knee line and form the upper section of the front of your leg.

This area is hugely important to creating an impressive appearance, as it is the first area people see when they look at your legs.

​A lot of exercises are focused on this part.

Big quadriceps

2. Hamstrings 

hamstrings

Your hamstrings sit above the knee line at the back of the leg, in exactly the same area as the quad muscle is on the front of the leg.

This area is often quite well developed in many leg trainees though not always for the right reasons.

3. Hip Adductors

Speaking of surrounding areas, the hip adductors (or the “inner” thighs) are easily one of the most overlooked aspects of quad development.

​Hip abductors are to hamstring and glute development.

Working out your hip adductors is an integral part if you want to get bigger legs.

man working out to get bigger legs

4. Hip Abductors

man at the gym

Your hip abductors (or outer thigh muscles) function in exactly the same way as the inner thigh muscles do.

Save for the fact that they side on the outside of the legs facing outwards.

Same as hip adductors, these are also important in exercising to make your legs bigger.

5. Glutes

Your glutes are your butt muscles, and is one of the most important group to develop for any female wanting to create an amazing set of legs.

If your glutes are underdeveloped, your legs are going to look seriously unbalanced and underwhelming - this applies especially for you men.

glutes

6. Calves

big calves

In case you were wondering whether or not calves are important...they are, and if you skip them you’ll simply pay the price because people will notice.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was guilty of neglecting his calves when his professional bodybuilding career first started to develop - learn from his experience and learn to how to build bigger calves.

The Keys to Getting Bigger Legs

Training legs effectively can be summarized quite effectively by an old Italian principle known as the “Pareto” principle. You might think at this point in time that old-fashioned philosophy has no place here, but it really does.

Nowhere is this statement truer than with leg training (and in fact, training in general.)

​Most people spend their time training in the “80%” zone, completely neglecting the 20% of exercises that are actually fundamentally important for their leg development and size on the whole.

Not only do they neglect these exercises, they also very rarely alternate their rep ranges and set counts or even the manner in which these sets are performed. Based on this, it’s very easy to see why more people aren’t achieving the legs they desire.

1. Lift Heavy On Your Compound Lifts

Everyone wants amazing legs, but nobody wants to squat or lift heavy weights on leg day.

These elements are hard, and people don’t like them - they would prefer to avoid them.

Squats, Romanian deadlifts, normal deadlifts, heavy leg pressing and any other leg press variants when performed with perfect form (and heavy weights) will create an amazing structural development of your legs.

You should see these types of exercises as building the framework for isolation (singular muscle) exercises to further develop - you’ll need to perform both higher and lower rep ranges with these compound movements to achieve maximum results.

2. Vary your rep ranges

You’re going to need to perform heavy, low volume reps one or two weeks in a row, then change the game completely and lighten the load whilst going for a higher rep range with a set exercise.

At no one point should you ever stick with one set rep or weight range unless you’re specifically training for sports performance - we’re going to take a wild guess that you’re here primarily for appearance purposes though as opposed to athletically charged reasons. With that in mind; variety is the spice of life.

chart in working out

3. Vary your Exercises

people at the gym

If you simply perform three sets of 8 reps for every exercise you perform with them, you’re never going to see the kind of development you’re looking for.

You can get away with this with the upper body but your legs simply aren’t going to respond to this training approach in the same way, or at least; not for long.

As far as what your workout should look like, change it up! It doesn’t need to look the same every time.

Dana Linn Bailey, Professional Physique Athlete

The focus word for leg progression is “variety”, as some of the top professional physique athletes including the aforementioned Dana Linn Bailey are well aware of.

You’re going to need a healthy mix of high rep ranges, low rep ranges, compound exercises, isolation exercises and training techniques to make some serious headway.

The Exercises You Need to get Bigger Legs

OK, hopefully I haven’t lost you with all the theory, but it’s important that you get these concepts, as it will make a big difference on your ability to stick to a dedicated leg routine.

The following list of 7 leg exercises is what I use almost exclusively on my leg days. I’ll also share with you the different combinations of sets that I alternate between.

1. Barbell Squats

OK, hopefully I haven’t lost you with all the theory, but it’s important that you get these concepts, as it will make a big difference on your ability to stick to a dedicated leg routine.

The following list of 7 leg exercises is what I use almost exclusively on my leg days. I’ll also share with you the different combinations of sets that I alternate between.

2. Front Squats

The great thing with these is that you will shift your center of gravity slightly forward and that has a big impact on how much your muscles become engaged. You will notice much more pressure on your core and quads.

My tip for front squats is to go easy with the weight at first. It’s a completely different balancing exercise, and there is a lot of strain on your shoulders. Once you get used to the weight, then it’s a great idea to alternate front and back versions between sets.

3. Deadlift

The deadlift is the exercise for the showman. Yes, I love doing it, and I find great motivation in the very large numbers I can write down on my rep sheet. However, while deadlifts might look simple, you have to pay close attention to keeping a straight back. (1)

The damage you can do if you get your posture wrong can put you out of action for a long time.

Bonus Tip: Don’t go and take the barbell from the bench press. You’ll just end up pissing off other members, and your gym should have a dedicated area for squatting and deadlifts.

4. Romanian Deadlift

When it comes to Romanian deadlifts, it’s all about proper form. Because of the way you lift the barbell without bending your knees, bad technique can cause a huge amount of pressure on your lower back.

And that’s a recipe for lining a chiropractor’s pockets. So, for your health and financial wellbeing, make sure you have a fitness instructor to show you the right way. When you get this exercise right though, you will definitely feel every single muscle in your legs and core.

5. Leg Extension

A lot of bodybuilders don’t favor the leg extension in their sets, because it only targets the quads. However, I find they work extremely well when you pile on the weight and take your time. 

However, because it only targets one muscle, you will have to balance it with other exercises. Otherwise, it can quickly happen that your leg muscles look completely out of proportion. And that’s why the next two exercises are on this list.

6. Lying Leg Curls

To balance the leg extension you have to add the leg curl. The machine works in a very similar way, but instead of straightening your leg with the weight, you will pull in your heels.

It’s an excellent way to put a lot of weight on your hamstrings without adding the pressure to your back and shoulders. If you have any kind of weakness in these areas, then this targeted exercise is the best option.

7. Standing And Seated Calf Raises

Finally, the calf raise is going to be vital to avoid having cocktail stick lower legs with a massive bulk sitting on top. It’s the kind of lollipop effect that really isn’t all that flattering. (2)

Standing calf raises are the best as you can add some significant weight. Make sure you do them slowly and even change the direction your toes are pointing in from inwards to outwards.

You’ll be amazed by how much this little adjustment will add to the burn.

The Workout for Bigger & Thicker Legs

OK, are you ready to spice things up a bit? Great!

But before you head to the gym with a list of the above exercises, we should talk about a plan of attack. What a lot of people get wrong is they aim to get all their leg exercises done in one day, and then work on the rest of their body for the remainder of the week.

man with big legs

The problem with this is twofold.

First of all, you will end up with a fair bit of pain in your legs the day after. This will only get worse if you only exercise this muscle group once a week. You end up in a continuous cycle of pain.

Secondly, science has proven that frequency wins out over sheer volume. By switching your gym plan to two leg days a week, you will see much better results, with a faster bulking time. The added testosterone and growth hormones that are produced on these days will also help with all your other goals. (3)

Now, let me introduce you to my workout plan that helped me build big legs in quite a short space of time. As mentioned, you shouldn’t be doing these every day. Pick two days a week and alternate between these two sets:

Workout A - Monday

  • Barbell squats 4 sets x 8 reps
  • Romanian deadlifts 3 sets x 8-10 reps
  • Leg Extensions 4 sets x 15 reps
  • Seated Calf Raises 3 sets x 15 reps

Workout B - Thursday (or 36 hours after Workout A)

  • Deadlift 4 sets x 4-6 reps
  • Front Squats 4 sets x 8-10 reps
  • Lying Leg Curls 4 sets x 10-15 reps
  • Standing Calf Raises 3 sets x 15 reps

By the end of a leg day, you should be walking like tin man in the Wizard of Oz!

Before you think that you can get all these done in 20 minutes, we should explain that you have to add some resting time between each set. I usually aim for about 3 minutes for sets with 4-6 reps and 2 minutes for the 8-15 reps.

You can adapt this dependent on how you feel your body is doing, but this is what works for me. Some people say that 2 minutes is the maximum, but when you pile on some serious weight, then some extra time will go a long way.

The Diet: 3 Not-so-secret Secrets

The secret to building stronger legs with more lean muscle mass is obviously regular hard work in the gym. But all that will be completely wasted if your diet doesn’t support it.

When it comes to food intake, I used to make some really amateur mistakes. It took several weeks of working with a dietitian to figure out what was wrong. Ultimately, it came down to 3 things, and when I talk to people at the gym who are struggling to put on muscle mass, then these tips always turn things around for them.

Here are my 3 not so secret secrets:

1. Eat More Calories

Without fail, this is the number one reason why people don’t bulk up.

If you have a really hard training plan and go to the gym at least once a day, then you need to eat two or three times as much as the average person. (4)

That’s probably going to be 5 large meals a day!

food variety in table

Otherwise, you will be burning more energy than you’re taking in and you go into a weight loss mode even when there isn’t much fat to burn. And that will make building muscle impossible.

Tip: ​The important thing is to focus on high-calorie whole foods and to stay away from junk food full of unhealthy fat. Lot’s of grain, meat, fish, beans, veg, and nuts are going to have to be piled up on a plate to give you the energy you’ll need.

2. Eat More Protein

protein rich foods

The number one building block of muscle tissue is protein.

The big problem you will have is to get enough protein into your body through the food you eat, even considering the amounts you’re eating.

Nutrition supplements are your best option as you will have a lot more flexibility to boost your protein intake at the right time. 

Let’s face, you’ll hardly feel like digging into a few chicken breasts immediately after your workouts.

​​Tip: Buy protein shake powder in those giant bags you can get. It might cost a bit upfront, but you’ll save a fortune this way.

3. Take Creatine

The number one building block of muscle tissue is protein.

The big problem you will have is to get enough protein into your body through the food you eat, even considering the amounts you’re eating.

Nutrition supplements are your best option as you will have a lot more flexibility to boost your protein intake at the right time. 

fit woman drinking creatine

Let’s face, you’ll hardly feel like digging into a few chicken breasts immediately after your workouts.

​​Tip: Buy protein shake powder in those giant bags you can get. It might cost a bit upfront, but you’ll save a fortune this way.

4 Final Tips

As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but if you want to speed up the process of building up some serious leg muscle, then there are some extra tips I can share with you. My fitness coach keeps me on my toes about these things.

But if you don’t have a dedicated coach, then try to find someone to work with at the gym who has similar goals. That way you can keep each other accountable and make sure you don’t skip these things.

1. Warm Up Properly

group warming up

This is something that actually gives me nightmares, when I see people arrive at the gym and spend 5 minutes on a treadmill before diving into heavy sets.

If you’re going to do that, then rather than build muscle, you’re just going to set yourself up for serious injury. 

Proper form is vital to successful muscle training, and the only way you can get there is by having a good warm-up routine.

​Get your heart pumping and your blood flowing. Cold muscles are not only going to tear more easily, but they won’t perform at maximum levels either.

2. Get Enough Sleep

Here’s what my routine used to look like.

Get home from the gym at around 8 and have my final meal of the day.

Then do another hour or two of work before another snack. Finish off the day with some light stretching and yoga and watch some TV.

sleep

I would go to bed around 12:30 and get up at 6 to start the day over again.

It felt OK to me, but the 5 hours of sleep were nowhere near enough to let my body and mind recover from multiple workouts in the day.

​Make sure you get at least 7 hours of sleep and try to go to bed by 11. It will make the world of difference.

3. Don’t Bother With Cardio

woman doing cardio exercise

If you want to lose fat, then lots of cardio is what you need. But when you want to bulk up, then cardio will just end up wasting precious energy and time. 

Now, you can do cardio exercises as part of your warm up routine, as they are great at getting your muscles warmed-up without too much strain.

But 10 to 15 minutes is more than enough.

4. Foam Rolling And Stretching

My own daily routine usually involves two trips to the gym with various amounts of strength training. One thing my fitness coach has always encouraged me to do at the end of every day is to spend about 30 minutes with a foam roller and doing some light stretching.

What the foam roller does is boost circulation to sore muscles, kind of like a massage. This delivers more nutrients to your muscles to help them repair and speed up recovery time.

And the stretching helps to loosen tense muscle fibers and improve overall flexibility. The more muscle you build the less flexible you can become, so make sure you avoid this with some simple stretching.

I also find this helps me wind down at night to get some better sleep.

The Bottom Line on Getting Bigger Legs

Leg training and building bigger muscles can be fun and very motivating. Seeing those huge weights piled onto a barbell is what makes me look forward to leg day the most. But planning these workouts requires more than just knowing a few exercises.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to the right combination of exercises, frequency, and diet. Add in my extra tips above, and you will make significant progress in a short space of time.

Let’s see if you will look forward to leg day as much as I do.


​References:

​1. Florian Schellenberg, William R. Taylor, and Silvio Lorenzetti, Towards evidence based strength training: a comparison of muscle forces during deadlifts, goodmornings and split squats, retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513080/

2. Sebastian Möck, René Hartmann, Klaus Wirth, Gregor Rosenkranz & Christoph Mickel, Correlation of dynamic strength in the standing calf raise with sprinting performance in consecutive sections up to 30 meters, Correlation of dynamic strength in the standing calf raise with sprinting performance in consecutive sections up to 30 meters, retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15438627.2018.1492397?journalCode=gspm20

3. Greg Nuckols, Training Frequency for Muscle Growth: What the Data Say, retrieved from https://www.strongerbyscience.com/frequency-muscle/

4. April Daniels Hussar, Study: Calories Are Key in Weight Gain ... but Protein Plays a Role, retrieved from https://www.self.com/story/calories-to-blame-in-weight-ga

About the author

Isaac Robertson

Isaac Robertson

I’m a personal fitness trainer and nutritionist living in sunny Indianapolis, IN. I’ve spent the last 8 years staying at the forefront of the health and fitness industry. In that time, I’ve helped hundreds of people shed the excess weight and get into shape, maintaining their healthy new lifestyle through proper training and eating habits. You can read more about me here​.

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